Nicolas Cage is an extremely versatile actor. Although normally he can be distinguished by his distinctive mannerisms (in much the same was as Brad Pitt can) he has, over the years, taken on plenty of roles that are both diverse and memorable. Whether it be David Lynch's Wild at Heart, an all-out actioner like The Rock or something much more understated like Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Cage has always had the charisma to capture cinema audiences across the globe.
In Lord of War, Cage plays Yuri Orlov a small-time Ukranian restaurateur living in Little Odessa, who finds that he has a particular talent for selling arms and decides to go into business with his younger brother, Vitaly(Jared Leto), slowly working his way up the food chain to play in the Big League. Hounded by Ethan Hawke's Interpol Agent Jack Valentine and forced to go up against Ian Holm's rival arms dealer, Simeon Weisz, Yuri uses his self-made rules and cunning to get out of almost every scrape imaginable, whether it be ditching a plane-load of guns or hiding a cargo ship.
The trouble is that he is just too good at his job and simply has no reason (and no morality) which would drive him to stop his illegal activities. This becomes even more of an issue when he becomes involved with the gorgeous supermodel Eva (Bridget Moynahan), who expects to be kept like a princess but initially does not want to know the truth about where the money comes from. Of course, as with any tale like this (and it could be compared in narrative to many other movies, including Scarface), eventually something has to give. Unfortunately, the climax leaves you with an unsatisfactory feeling that the previous two hours had been a big waste of time and everybody loses out in the end. It's just plain depressing.
Cage is on good form as Yuri, the central and driving character behind the whole story. Almost never off-screen, we see him don several bad haircuts as he narrates his progress up through the illegal arms underworld. The trouble is, he is not really a very likeable character. Almost devoid of any redeemable features, his charm soon wears off and his utter lack of morality is an unusual trait for the 'hero' of a movie to possess. Ethan Hawke reminds us once again (especially following on from Assault on Precinct 13) that he should be on screen more often and, despite his relatively limited supporting role here, he is one of the best things about the movie.
Bridget Moynahan, who fared well opposite the ever-watchable Will Smith in I, Robot, is suitably glamorous as the model, Eva, possibly one of Yuri's only weak spots and Ian Holm barely gets more than a couple of lines, but is reliably shady as the veteran, rival arms dealer Weisz. Fresh from playing Colin Farrell's best friend/lover in Alexander, Jared Leto does a superb job as the more moral younger brother, Vitaly, who displays the kind of necessary conscience that Yuri clearly lacks and who also gets addicted to cocaine for his troubles. It is also worth noting Eamonn Walker as one of Yuri's best customers, a warlord with a habit of restructuring the English language to unique effect (hence nicknaming Cage's Yuri the 'Lord of War').
Shot like a glossier version of Three Kings, the movie is just as stylish, suitably well-narrated and well-developed and has just the right mix of action, thrills and drama. Unfortunately it is all sound and fury, eventually signifying nothing and, by the end of it all, you wonder whether you gained anything from the entire experience. The central character's extreme cynicism is, at times, so depressing that it slowly eats away at the viewer's will to live. I like Nicholas Cage and almost any movie he has been in, he has made infinitely more watchable but unfortunately, just like his character can't save his soul, even he can't save the movie.
“There are over 550 million firearms in worldwide circulation. That's one firearm for every twelve people on the planet. The only question is: how do we arm the other eleven?”
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